The past several weeks have been a period of great challenge for our part of the state. The July 17 collapse of the Goshen/Gering Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal struck a serious blow to producers at a critical point in the growing season. The canal failure halted water delivery to approximately 107,000 acres on the south side of the river in Scotts Bluff County and Goshen County, Wyoming.
Temporary repairs began on July 26, with permanent repairs taking significantly more time to complete. Without water for the affected areas, yields for corn and dry beans have all but been lost, with incredible yield loss experienced for sugar beets and alfalfa producers. Producers await for an official prognosis of what caused the tunnel collapse so that the Risk Management Agency, housed under the USDA, can make a determination on crop insurance eligibility.
If there’s one group that has been able to provide those affected with helpful information over the past few weeks, it has been Nebraska Extension at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This situation has served as yet another reminder of the value and far-reaching impact that the extension, and the entire university, have on our state.
As soon as word of the canal collapse began to spread, our dedicated extension partners in the Panhandle were hard at work compiling resources to support farmers in the region. They have created a website dedicated to sharing the latest information and resources related to this situation. I encourage everyone to visit go.unl.edu/canal for information on yield loss and soil moisture predictions, disaster resources, financial assistance, rural tax education and much more.
Some of the most helpful ways Nebraska Extension has stepped up to support the region has been to facilitate public meetings for stakeholders. Irrigation officials have shared information about the disruption of water delivery and outlined plans for the repair. Some of these meetings have seen attendance of 250 people or more at UNL’s Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to center director Jack Whittier, who has moderated the meetings, and everyone from Nebraska Extension for making these meetings possible and helping make sure those affected received all available information.
As the state’s No. 1 industry, agriculture is the backbone of Nebraska. When yields suffer, the farmers aren’t the only ones taking a hit. Without a solid return, producers will not be able to spend money, which will hurt our local businesses. This canal collapse will ultimately affect all producers, families, businesses and communities in the region. While many associate the work of extension with just the agricultural community, extension provides expertise in a wide variety of sectors, which we need more now than ever.
I hope my fellow community members will stay in touch with local extension contacts for expert advice. The University of Nebraska is a positive force for growth and change across our state. It is comforting to know that in times of challenge, Nebraskans can count on their university to be a trusted resource and partner as long as the need exists.